How much does the average grain farmer make on his land per acre? $100? If he’s lucky. But apparently, it’s possible to make $1,000 on those acres, at least if they’re wet. Really wet!

Bob Calala and his two brothers Lewis and David, have been doing extremely well on their liquid acres, and their annual income comes from raising crayfish and shrimp. The trio has a farm just north of New London, Ohio on State Route 60, and most of that farm is taken up with farm ponds of up to several acres. “My dad started the business in 1963, raising bass and bluegill for stocking with us boys to help.” Bob said. “But since stocking is usually a one shot deal, we started looking elsewhere, and crayfish filled the bill.”

They picked a species of craw that was easy going, non-aggressive, and amenable to pond life, stocking an average of 200 – 300 adults per acre. They tried for a good balance to make ideal growth, keeping close track of populations. Since crayfish are omnivores, willing to eat either vegetation or meat, the brothers supplemented as needed with alfalfa hay and sometimes with shrimp food. They did well.

Because there’s a major market for soft shelled crayfish, which are used as bait for many kinds of game fish. A couple of their workers soon learned to pick out the soft shelled ones, individuals who had recently shed their outer shell and hadn’t yet grown a new one, and these were sold to wholesalers, who in turn sold them to bait dealers.

Hard shelled types found a fair market too, and these were also netted out in two man seines and sold to wholesalers. “If there’s one thing I’ve long learned,” Bob said, “it’s that there’s never enough bait, always a shortage sooner or later and somewhere or other. We’re selling millions of craws these days, and we sell them in several states. One of our best areas is right here in northcentral and northern Ohio.” Incidentally, the crayfish are very edible, and can be used as they are in Louisiana and elsewhere for boiled craws, crayfish gumbo, and other dishes. The tails are white after boiling and go well with a tangy cocktail sauce.

Shrimp didn’t enter the picture until just a few years ago. The Division of Wildlife (DOW) prohibited shrimp farming because they feared that like any other exotic (carp, English sparrows, round gobies, zebra mussels, etc.) they might escape ponds and infiltrate lakes and rivers elsewhere. But the DOW found out that (1) they die at 55 degree temperatures or less, and (2) they have to make a transition to saltwater and back to fresh before they can breed. No problem there.

The brothers decided on Malaysian prawns, a marvelously tasty crustacean, and stocked their ponds with juveniles from Texas and Kentucky. But that wasn’t really satisfactory, so the brothers decided to build their own hatchery and raise juveniles for personal stocking and sale. “They turned out to be phenomenal growers,” Bob said, “faster than anything I’ve ever heard of. We stock them on June 1 at 0.5 grams and by mid-September when we harvest them, they’ve often reached a quarter pound and up to 12 inches in length!”

Their basic stocking ratio is around 30,000 shrimp per acre and they’ll eat about $5,000 in shrimp food. What are the finances here? According to Calala, “We sold a man with a new pond 31,000 juveniles at 8 cents each ($2500), and he spent another $2,500 on feed. Then sold them for $6-12 per pound. That’s a good profit.”

It goes without saying that a pond must be empty of fish and anything else that will eat shrimp, since these are “swimming porkchops.” And he sells only live shrimp when harvest time rolls around. “I don’t do anything about the selling.” Bob said. “I just put an ad in a few local papers, give readers the date and place, and tell them to bring a cooler and ice. They buy them right off the pond bank.”

Bob Calala, incidentally, is President of the Ohio Aquaculture Association, and is more than knowledgeable about aquaculture. “Did you know that oil is the No. 1 U.S. import, and seafood No. 2?” he said. “And of the seafood, shrimp is No. 1. There’s a big demand for shrimp as food and soon for live bait. We raised 300,000 shrimp this year, and next year it’ll be a half million.”

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